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Caroline Polachek: A Transcendent Encounter That Leaves Brisbane Breathless

Caroline Polachek live at the Tivoli, Brisbane
Photo Credit : Caroline Polachek (@carolineplz)


Tivoli, Brisbane

Wednesday, 13 December 2023

IN AN IDEAL WORLD, we would bow to Caroline Polachek, and music would take cues from her, and she would rule alongside Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. Alas, the avant-pop luminary has been ahead of the pop curve for years, renowned as the visionary force behind Chairlift and collaborating with Flume, Blood Orange, Charli XCX, Fischerspooner, and Oneohtrix Point, as well as writing for the aforementioned Queen Bey. And this isn't even mentioning her own output, the latest of which, her second album Desire, I Want To Turn Into You, existing as something of a revelation in modern music in 2023. To have her here in Brisbane, onstage at the Tivoli, on the back of what we declared the Album Of The Year, is surreal, to say the least.

Yet, here she is, gracing the stage with what simultaneously feels like seduction and youthful exuberance. Her inaugural step onto the stage is preceded by the almost-operatic vocal intro to 'Welcome To My Island,' a sentiment that sets up the entire evening as Polachek and her three-piece band invite each and every one of us into their dream world. Her energy is infectious immediately, as she bounds from one side of the stage to the next, infusing the whole place with her otherworldly presence that transcends the conventional boundaries of pop music. It's music that really ought to dictate the pop zeitgeist.

The setlist moves through her Desire... album, in the same order of sequence actually, but includes extras from her debut solo album Pang and elsewhere. 'Hit Me Where It Hurts' follows before 'Pretty In Possible,' and a pair of baby-sampling highlights in 'Bunny Is A Rider' and the latest experimental stand-alone single 'Dang.' Playing an album in order runs the risk of blowing the highlights early, and Polachek's set does somewhat fall into this trap, but Desire... is such a strong, front-to-back, skip-free listen that it isn't perhaps as obvious as it might be for a lesser artist. From the flamenco-inspired romance of 'Sunset' to the orchestral hits of the soaring 'I Believe' and the ache of 'Look At Me Now,' Polachek and co touch all sonic bases but lose nothing in cohesion.

They're the real deal; nothing about the set is a photocopy - yes, the samples are there, but these instruments are live. The drums cut through, and the song arrangements do have some flexibility; they extend and vary from the recordings. Polachek's performance is something of a revelation - she's very softly spoken between songs, but as each one begins, she moves her arms into dramatic shapes, bigger than herself, executing confident vulnerability. It's high art, yet it's still an intimate pop show.

At the heart of her spellbinding performance lies her vocal virtuosity—a delicate yet commanding instrument in itself that navigates effortlessly through each melodic reverie, from the celestial harmonies of 'Door' to the ineffable beauty of 'Butterfly Net' and 'Blood And Butter.' For her rendition of her Grimes and Dido collaboration 'Fly To You,' she interpolates segments of the former's 'Delete Forever' and the latter's 'Thank You' as a nod of respect and tribute; surprisingly, they all sit together as one quite effortlessly. Each and every song leaves the audience spellbound and enraptured all at once. The main set closes with arguably her biggest single, 'So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings,' which leaves the deafening audience in rapture, screaming for more. There is, in fact, more - back on stage, the ensemble breezes through 'HopeDrunk Everasking,' which is the only song from Desire... played out of sequence. As Polachek explains, tonight is the finale of the Spiralling Tour and a solid 12 months of touring, which her guitarist suggests is a cause for celebration, so they play 'So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings' a second time to even more noise from this boisterous and adoring crowd. The joy from all, including Polachek and band, is palpable.

Words don't accurately describe Polachek; her boundless talents are nothing short of an opulent tapestry woven from the threads of her celestial vocals, intricate compositions, and captivating stage presence, choreography, and flirtatious banter. Tonight's show won't leave our minds for quite some time and, if possible, has cemented our fandom even deeper than when we walked into the room tonight.



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